The Amazon Echo smart home device may inadvertently prove to be a useful tool battling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the many features of the smart speaker device, and those on the market that are similar to it, are capabilities as a public health tool. According to a column in The New York Times, these devices can be used in ways to identify diagnostic health indicators like aberrations in breathing and cardiac arrest. Now, they may be able to help with coronavirus, too.
The column, written by University of Washington School of Medicine assistant professor Dr. Jacob Sunshine and University of Washington computer science and engineering associate professor
That passive sensing could potentially use an on-device “wake word” in the form of the sound of a dry cough. If that cough persists, the device would present a coronavirus symptom survey and, if the screen is positive, the speaker would connect the user to relevant public health guidance.
Other uses for the device include emitting high-frequency tones that, when reflected, can be captured and track chest motion and absorb information about a patient’s breathing rate.
Sunshine and Gallakota are testing their hypothesis in 20 homes in a Seattle flu study.
The Verge reported that Amazon, along with Apple and its Siri platform, announced that users can ask the smart device about coronavirus and the speaker will be prompted to ask about symptoms, travel history and possible exposure before offering advice based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official information.
Sunshine and Gallakota believe the devices may have capabilities beyond that, and it remains to be seen if those features are utilized amid the crisis.